Persephone's Choice

We know very little about Kore/Persephone before her abduction to the Underworld. She is not even assigned a proper name when the poem opens. Known as the Kore (a generic word for “maiden”) or as “the slim-ankled daughter” of Demeter, she is denied a unique identity and is perceived as an extension of her mother.

Once in the Underworld, the Kore loses her maiden status. She sheds her generic name and assumes a proper name—Persephone, which means spring. We hear no more about her until Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods, arrives to announce her release. One would think she would be overjoyed to hear the news and show some excitement. Apparently not. Persephone does not react.

As he is about to release her, Hades reminds her she has gained new powers as his bride and as the Queen of the Underworld. Her status has increased among the gods, and her power extends to all that lives since mortals will try to win her favor with sacrifices and honors so she can ease their burden and the burden of their loved ones in the Underworld. It is then and only then that Persephone shows excitement. Homer tells us she eagerly “leapt for joy.” Hades then pops pomegranate seeds in her mouth, and Persephone swallows them. This is significant. Persephone has spent one year in the Underworld without consuming its food. Why would she choose to swallow food from the Underworld just as she is about to exit?

Hades (Pluton) depicted sitting on the left holding a bident in his left hand, next to Persephone seated below. By Publisher: Eduard Trewendt, Atelier für Holzschnittkunst von August Gaber in Dresden, January 1864 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hades (Pluton) depicted sitting on the left holding a bident in his left hand, next to Persephone seated below. By Publisher: Eduard Trewendt, Atelier für Holzschnittkunst von August Gaber in Dresden, January 1864 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In order to understand the magnitude of Persephone’s choice, we need to know one of the rules of the Underworld is if you swallow food while you’re down there, you will have to return. So by swallowing the pomegranate seeds, Persephone is ensuring her return. The question is why? Why would she want to go back? Why would she intentionally swallow the seeds of death?

The answer to that will be in my next post. 

Posted
AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar